It's 1811, you're sick: In walks the doctor, clutching a black bag. It's 1911, you're sick: In walks the doctor, clutching a black bag. It's 2011, you're sick: In walks the doctor, clutching a black bag.
Although that iconic black bag might differ in size and contents than it did 200 years, the basic premise of the doctor's kit hasn't changed much at all. Doctors today are using oversized camera bags or plastic tool boxes to carry their medical equipment — tools which aren't designed for cleanliness or safety. Which is especially disturbing when you realize this fact: According to a World Health Organization study, over one billion people worldwide now receive health care each year without ever going to a hospital. This is true not only in developing nations, where people may not have ready access to a hospital, but also in developed nations, where people living with chronic diseases receive much of their care at home. For the nurses, doctors and other caregivers in the field, that clinician's kit now has to work extra hard.
Royal College of Art Ph.D candidate David Swann created an INDEX Award finalist project, the 21st Century Nursing Bag to address these concerns for the health care field, creating a portable, standardized caregiving station which can save money, prevent overcrowding in hospitals, and keep patients healthier by not exposing them to possible infections from interactions with other sick people.
The kit can prevent hospital overcrowding and help prevent infections.
In designing the new kit, Swann says the primary goal was to take the nursing bag down to the barest minimum. Doing so would create a more lightweight and efficient product, which, of course, is helpful, but Swann hoped to eliminate size and surface area for another interesting reason: The fewer elements, the less places there are for germs to grab onto. "Simplification has been a key driver as a simpler product removes potential bacteria traps," Swann tells Co.Design. "The greatest challenge was to take the design out of the design." Swann looked closely at behavior around the kit, designing the exterior so doctors and nurses can use minimal hand movements to hold and access the bag, lessening the chance of contamination. Just looking at the handle of the kit is a great example — there aren't any crevices which can't be easily sterilized.
The kit itself opens flat into a workstation which not only gives the nurse a surface to work on, it also helps put the patient at ease by creating a clean, dedicated area for their care. Inside, two modular drawers can slide all the way out of the frame, allowing the caregiver to easily locate and store medical equipment without digging through a pouch or a bag. Using input from nurses and patients, Swann was able to create a streamlined, hospital-like environment with only a few square feet of plastic that manages to boost the confidence of both parties.
Swann created a hospital-like setting with a few square feet of plastic.
The materials Swann chose for the kit also had to be affordable as well as resistant to contamination. Immediately, Swann knew they had to move far away from the idea of a flexible, if utilitarian, bag. "Research evidence shows that less permeable materials will not absorb harmful bacteria, unlike conventional bags," he says. The team opted for a rigid, medical-grade polyproplene plastic that could be easily cleaned, and designed the case with what Swann calls a "living hinge," where the kit's hinge is designed right into the plastic mold, requiring no extra parts and creating no extra hiding places for germs.
Through the school's incubator, InnovationRCA, Swann says the bag is moving toward production, and groups interested should contact him at d.m.swann[at]hud.ac.uk. While the social benefits are obvious, it's the economic factor, especially in the U.S., that makes this such an innovative idea. Swann estimates that a kit could save providers up to $2,600 per nurse each year. With prohibitive health care costs deterring people from hospitals already, a health care provider that invests heavily in these nursing kits could train a highly skilled fleet of mobile caregivers who could treat patients faster, safer, and more efficiently than a hospital, freeing up those beds for people who need more urgent, comprehensive care.